What is Ketamine Therapy & What Are Its Benefits?

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Medically reviewed: Paloma Lehfeldt, MD
a woman enjoying ketamine therapy benefits

Understanding Ketamine-Assisted Psychotherapy and Ketamine + Integrative Counseling and How it Could Help You Heal

For decades, treatments for mental health challenges such as depression, suicidal ideation, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and anxiety have seen little change. To the extent that people had access to treatment, modalities tended to fit into one or two categories: talk therapy or prescription medication such as antidepressants. Some patients undertook both simultaneously.

The criticisms of these two treatment types are fairly consistent. Both may require weeks or months of treatment to produce noticeable results.(1) Moreover, symptoms tend to return quickly when treatment is ceased. Some anti-depressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), have also been shown to have long-term negative effects. Additionally, SSRIs take weeks to have an effect and are ineffective in many patients.(2)

Today, however, a modern twist on these combined modalities shows great promise in treating conditions like depression, anxiety, PTSD, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), bipolar depression, and even substance use disorder and chronic pain.

Specifically, medical providers and researchers are exploring ketamine administration on its own, ketamine treatments paired with a guide or counselor (licensed or unlicensed), and ketamine treatments paired with licensed psychotherapy (also referred to as ketamine-assisted psychotherapy or KAP). KAP and ketamine treatments can also be combined with integrative therapy or holistic treatments such as yoga and meditation, which may aid in successful outcomes.

Ketamine is even proving to work well for patients whose depression or other mental health challenges have been characterized as “treatment-resistant.” This simply means that you may have failed to respond to at least two different treatment types for a period longer than four weeks at the maximum recommended dose.(3)

What is Ketamine Therapy?

For those unfamiliar with ketamine, it is a short-acting, generally well-tolerated medication that has been used as an anesthetic in the United States since 1970.(4) In recent years, medical professionals and researchers have begun diving into ketamine’s potential as a mental health, substance abuse, and pain management tool.

One of the key differentiators between ketamine therapy and traditional treatments is its pairing with integrative counseling and/or psychotherapy. When used together, ketamine’s rapid onset of action may synchronize with these techniques to create a novel and highly effective treatment regimen. 

When pairing ketamine, the medication, with therapy, you have ketamine therapy, which has the participant undergo ketamine infusions under the care of a therapist, who may be either licensed or unlicensed. Whereas ketamine-assisted psychotherapy specifically involves a licensed psychotherapist. Both KAP and ketamine therapy may or may not include integrative counseling.(5

How Does Psychotherapy and Integrative Counseling Help with Ketamine Treatments?Ketamine therapy protocols vary somewhat between different providers and clinics. In most cases, the patient will meet with the practitioner at least once before any administration of ketamine to discuss the symptoms that are causing the patient distress (such as negative thinking or painful memories that “loop” through the patient’s mind). 
The therapist and patient may also plan for the “set and setting” for the ketamine treatment. This may include music, aroma therapies, and lighting to make the patient feel safe and comfortable during the treatment. They will also discuss treatment goals and desired outcomes.  

On the day of the treatment, the therapist is there to help the patient process emotions and feel safe.(6) Sessions generally begin with a practitioner administering a dose of ketamine that isn’t quite strong enough to render the patient unconscious (sub-anesthetic). Rather, it puts them in a highly-relaxed, trance-like state.(7) Administration of ketamine at this dosage could allow the patient to open up to new ways of thinking. 

This is possible because the patient’s brain becomes neuroplastic once they reach the trance-like state. In other words, your mind may become more mentally flexible. Some scientists hypothesize that changes in the brain’s neuroplasticity allow you to adapt to new changes and modes of thought.(8) For example, according to this theory, a patient stuck in a negative thinking pattern may become open and amenable to positive feelings, thoughts, and emotions.

The practitioner’s main job during this session is to guide the patient through their journey. Sometimes, this may involve gentle discussion between the patient and the therapist. In other cases, the practitioner acts primarily as an observer who listens to the patient’s experience and helps guide them through the revelations they may be experiencing or new emotions coming to the surface.
Within days of the initial ketamine session, the therapist and patient will typically meet to “debrief” the patient’s ketamine session. Those talks will focus on ways for the patient to maintain the positive mental state that resulted from the session. This typically involves thinking exercises or self-care regimens intended to “lock in” the brain’s new way of thinking.

Importantly, protocols like these have significantly decreased patients’ depression and anxiety.(9)

Where Can You Find Ketamine Treatment?

One of the most exciting things about ketamine therapy is the wide availability of this treatment protocol. Today, many forms of psychedelic-assisted therapy are being researched. Substances like MDMA, LSD, and psilocybin are all being explored as possible treatments for many conditions, including some treated by ketamine. However, those substances are still illegal in many states, with researchers going through lengthy FDA-required steps to enroll candidates in trials.

Ketamine, on the other hand, is widely (and legally) used for therapy across the United States. Indeed, clinics have opened from coast to coast, with many clinics offering this cutting-edge ketamine treatment near you.
a man searching for ketamine therapy clinics

How Much Does Ketamine Therapy Cost?Like many emerging therapies, ketamine therapy costs vary significantly based on geography, treatment protocols, and the number of sessions suggested for each patient.

The cost of ketamine treatments can vary from a few hundred dollars to several thousand. This wide range in prices is also attributed to different services offered by your ketamine providers, such as integrative counseling or ketamine-assisted psychotherapy. Therapy sessions are generally billed in addition to that. 

Many clinics offer “package pricing” that includes the medicine and the time spent with practitioners. Those packages also vary widely, so it is best to call nearby clinics to compare prices and offerings. Many ketamine clinics offer financing or payment plans to facilitate treatment like other medical clinics.

Should You Explore Ketamine-Assisted Therapy?If you’ve been experiencing mental health, pain, or substance abuse issues that simply aren’t going away with standard treatment options, you may be a good candidate for ketamine therapy. Many people who turn to ketamine have already exhausted treatment options such as talk therapy, antidepressants, or anti-anxiety medications. Often, people turn to ketamine therapy because nothing else has worked.

If you feel like you’re at your wit’s end with these treatments, you might want to look into ketamine treatments, including ketamine-assisted psychotherapy, and ketamine with integrative counseling. However, as with any new medical protocol, it’s best to discuss this treatment option with a practitioner, such as a physician, therapist, or psychiatrist.
You should also contact nearby ketamine clinics to see what counsel they can provide as you make this important decision. They may even offer to discuss ketamine protocols with your existing medical provider.

Whatever you do, don’t ignore mental health challenges harming your ability to enjoy life. Do some research, make some phone calls. If ketamine seems right for your condition, you can easily find ketamine treatment near you using our directory.

Where to Find
Ketamine TreatmentLocate outpatient ketamine clinics and at-home ketamine service providers in the U.S. that offer care for pain, depression, anxiety, PTSD, OCD, and addiction.